A compromise $1.1 trillion congressional budget bill that would restore dollars lost to last year's sequestration is a step in the right direction for the national parks, says the National Parks Conservation Association.
However, the advocacy group adds, that won't entirely dig the National Park Service out of its funding hole.
If Congress approves the compromise bill, it should "help parks, local businesses and visitors begin to move beyond many of the sequester-driven closures and the damaging government shutdown," an NPCA release said. "The restored funding, if approved, will help reopen visitor centers and services, benefit park wildlife and science, and provide the much-needed maintenance to protect national parks’ outstanding natural features, wildlife and rich cultural legacy."
Craig Obey, the group's senior vice president for government affairs, said the compromise bill "has stopped the budgetary bleeding by our national parks. That progress was only made possible because of the budget agreement negotiated by Senator (Patty) Murray and Congressman (Paul) Ryan, and because Appropriations Committee leaders worked diligently to restore sequestered funds for the National Park Service."
"We thank Appropriations Chairs (Barbara) Mikulski and (Harold) Rogers, Interior Subcommittee Chairs (Ken) Calvert and Reed, and their ranking member colleagues for beginning to reinvest in the National Park Service in Fiscal Year 2014," he added.
According to NPCA calculations, without controlling for the impacts of inflation and other uncontrollable cost increases, "the bill essentially brings the National Park Service back to the levels in FY12, prior to the damaging sequester, with an overall funding level of $2.56 billion."
At the same time, the sequester came atop two prior years of cuts and led to the closure of park roads, visitor centers, campgrounds and other facilities, and reduced the level of park rangers by nearly 2,000.
“This bill does not reverse those earlier pre-sequester cuts, but makes important progress toward getting the parks fully open for business by the 2016 centennial,” said Mr. Obey. “While we’re concerned about policy provisions in the bill that threaten the quality of the air and water in national parks, we’re pleased to see the beginning of what we hope will be a longer-term trajectory that reverses years of cuts and gets funding for national parks back on track.
"This doesn’t get parks to where they need to be by any measure, but sets the groundwork for needed reinvestment."
As President Obama puts the finishing touches on his FY15 budget proposal, NPCA officials want the president to "both outline the significance of this historic anniversary (NPS centennial in 2016) and offer a budget for FY15 that gets rangers back into national parks after years of declining numbers, restores crumbling park infrastructure, and educates and engages younger generations of Americans.”
“Restoring our national heritage enjoys wide public support and is an investment that supports hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the country," said Theresa Pierno, NPCA's executive vice president.